"The culture of the Blair administration is that they feel they're serving a higher cause than the truth"
Adam Boulton, Sky political editor, quoted in yesterday's Observer
If history is fair to Tony Blair, and that is said to be his greatest obsession, it will not depict him as a lier in the mould of Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. Despite New Labour's famed use of spin and the popularity of anti-war 'Bliar' t-shirts, this is not a man who tries to conceal the truth, but to drag politics into places where there is no truth. Language is transformed until claims about the world become unfalsifiable (and unverifiable). As Andrew Rawnsley has argued
The pledges are as vacuous as they are verbless. 'Your family better off.' Who would go into an election promising the opposite? 'Your children with the best start.' Only those who hate their children will be against that. 'Your community safer.' Hands up everyone who wants their community to be more deadly?
Ethical language also takes on the quality of muzak, not something that results in claims about the world, but a background hum that never really begins or ends. The intention of the Iraq war was good, so never mind the consequences; Sadam Hussein has been removed, so never mind the intentions. One slips seamlessly into the other. To represent a set of lies, Blairite rhetoric would have to construct and present a world that was empirically credible but which did not exist. This is not what it does, which may explain Blair's extraordinary political resilience. Instead, the rhetoric massages its audience into believing that there is no such thing as a truthful representation, and so who cares? The injunction is to chill out a little.
Perhaps it is Gordon Brown, with his quantitatively obsessive PSA targets, PFIs and CSRs, who really does create Blair's biggest headache. It is not that the numbers don't lie, but that the numbers do lie: like everything else they can be manipulated, but unlike with Blairite manipulations, the manipulator can be found out. Double-counting and golden-rule-breaking are at the very least lies, with an identifiable, sometimes measurable, distance from reality. Rhetoric, intention, feeling and pragmatism are not.